Yakima Chiefs Owhi and Qualchien

“Headquarters Expedition Against Northern Indians,
Camp on the Ned-Whauld (Lahtoo) River, W. T.,
September 24, 1858.

At sunset last evening the Yakima chief Ow-hi presented himself before me. He came from the lower Spokane River, and told me that he had left his son, Qual-chew, at that place.

I had some dealings with this chief, Ow-hi, when I was on my Yakima campaign in 1856. He came to me when I was encamped on the Nah-chess River, and expressed great anxiety for peace, and promised to bring in all his people at the end of seven days. He did not keep his word, but fled over the mountains. I pursued him and he left the country. I have never seen him from that time until last evening. In all this time he has been considered as semi-hostile, and no reliance could be placed on him.

This man Qual-chew, spoken of above, is the son of Ow-hi. His history, for three years past, is too well known to need recapitulation. He has been actively engaged in all the murders, robberies, and attacks upon the white people since 1855, both east and west of the Cascade Mountains. He was with the party who attacked the miners on the We-nat-che river in June last, and was severely wounded; but recovering rapidly he has since been committing assaults on our people whenever an opportunity offered. Under these circumstances, I was very desirous of getting Qual-chew in my power. I seized Ow-hi and put him in irons. I then sent a messenger for Qual-chew desiring his presence forth with, with notice that if he did not come I would hang Ow-hi. Qual-chew came to me at 9 o’clock this morning, and at 9 a. m. he was hung.

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
G. Wright, Colonel 9th Infantry, Commanding.

Major W. W. Mackall, Assistant Adjutant General,
Headquarters Department of the Pacific,
Fort Vancouver, W. T.

On reaching the Ned-Whauld (Latah or Hang man creek) it was observed that the chiefs and many warriors of the Spokane had already pitched their lodges there, and were accompanied by Father Joset. On the previous day the great chief Kamiaken, who, though a Palouse, had acquired the leadership of the Yakimas, and Tilkohitz, the Palouse chief who, it was said, owned the band of horses captured and killed by Colonel Wright on the Spokane River, were there, but as the evening came on they grew apprehensive as to the treatment that might be accorded them by Colonel Wright and departed.

Colonel Wright immediately sent Chiefs Garry and Big Star out to find Kamiaken with instructions to tell him to come in and surrender himself and he should not be harmed; but that if he did not do so, the Colonel would pursue him until he captured him and then put him to death.

The council was convened with one hundred and seven chiefs and warriors present. Besides the Spokane, there were present representatives from the Pend Oreille, Colville, Calispell, Iles des Pierre, and other smaller tribes.

While the council was in session, Garry and Big Star returned and reported that, after searching without success through the entire night, they came, at daybreak, upon Kamiaken and Schroom, his brother, on the north side of the Spokane River. The chief could not be persuaded to return, however, for he feared that, even though Wright would not hang him on the spot, he would carry him captive to Walla Walla and, perhaps, confine him about the fort indefinitely.

Having no taste for the experience of being run down by Colonel Wright, Kamiaken, with a small following, soon hid away into the fastnesses of the Rocky Mountains.

The hanging of Qualchien (as spelled by Kip) was an event which produced much comment among the officers and men. The summary manner in which he was ordered to his execution, after having come voluntarily into the camp of his enemy seeking the presence of the commanding officer, was a proceeding unusual and has since been strongly characterized as such by some of the participants in the expedition. If these diverse opinions are well grounded, the event may be regarded as being the only flaw in the brilliancy of an Indian campaign that, in skill of direction and precision of execution, has scarce an equal.

In the light of legal justice, Qualchien doubtless deserved the fate that was meted out to him. He was believed to have been guilty of the murder of at least nine white men, at various times, and was charged with complicity in the murder of Indian Agent Bolen prior to the outbreak of 1856.

Chiefs Owhi and Qualchien were, as has been previously stated, respectively father and son, and were Yakimas. Owhi was a brother-in-law of Kamiaken and was equally noted as the latter for his ability in council and his power as a chief.

The known careers of Owhi and Qualchien had been marked with crime, particularly that of Qualchien, though Owhi, more diplomatic in practice, had perhaps but few less offenses to his credit. Each, if permitted to remain at large, in unrestrained freedom to come and go at will among the various tribes, would, by his malicious influence, continually menace the peace which it was hoped to establish. Colonel Wright was therefore particularly anxious to secure them.

But few of the officers or men of the command had ever seen Qualchien. In fact none of the officers had ever met him personally. Captain Keyes had faced him in battle on White river, Puget Sound district, on March 1st, 1856, but at no closer range than pistol shot. Owhi was better known, many of the officers having met him. He participated in the Walla Walla council held by Governor Stevens in 1855, at which Lieutenant Kip was present.

Qualchien had married the handsome daughter of Saulotkin 1 the Spokane chief, and had thus obtained a position of some importance with that tribe.

Owhi came into camp for the purpose, as he stated, of making peace. He was immediately recognized, and was accorded a rather stern reception by Colonel Wright, who talked with him through the medium of the priest as an interpreter. After calling to his mind the episode which occurred on the Naches River, in 1856, Wright asked: “Where is Qualchien?” to which Owhi replied, “At the mouth of the Spokane River.” The Colonel then said to the priest, “Tell Owhi that I will send a message to Qualchien. Tell him he, too, shall send a message, and if Qualchien does not join me before I cross the Snake River, in four days, I will hang Owhi.”

“When this communication was made known to him,” says Kip, “he appeared to lose all power over himself. He sank on the ground, and the perspiration came out on him in large drops. He took out a book of prayers, and in much confusion turned over the leaves for a moment, looking at the pictures apparently without knowing what he was doing, and handed it to the priest who was standing by him.”

He was then ordered to be put in irons and placed under the care of a guard. When the messenger departed in quest of Qualchien, Owhi made known to the guard that he did not think his son would come in.

At about nine o’clock on the following morning, a small party of Indians was seen emerging from the mouth of a near-by canyon. The party consisted of two braves and a fine-looking squaw, the three riding abreast, and a small hunchback following a little way in their rear. The two braves were decked out in bright scarlet and presented a dashing air. Each carried a rifle and one, who was easily marked as the leader of the party, carried, hanging at his belt, an ornamented tomahawk and a pistol.

The squaw, whose striking comeliness was re marked by all, was richly attired; two ornamented scarf rested over her right shoulder, the flowing ends passing under her right arm. A lance, the long staff of which was completely wound with various colored beads and ribbon, and from the end of which depended two long tippets of beaver, rested across her saddle in front. Her features were such that by some she was thought to be a half-blood.

Without the slightest exhibition of fear or embarrassment, the party rode directly to Colonel Wright’s tent, in front of which Captain Keyes, Lieutenant Lyon, and a few others were standing. The leader asked in Chinook: 2 “Ca mitlite mica hyas tyee?” (Where does you chief live?) Keyes stepped to the tent and holding aside the opening, said: “Colonel, we have distinguished visitors here.” Wright came out and began talking in Chinook with the Indian, who in the meantime had ridden nearer his tent, and, to his surprise, soon learned that he was none other than Qualchien.

At the Colonel’s invitation Qualchien dis mounted. It was now observed that he possessed a fine physique; broad and deep of chest and muscular of limb, with small hands and feet. For a few moments the two stood talking, Qualchien with his rifle standing on the ground by his side.

While they were thus engaged, Wright, turning aside, called an orderly and gave him orders to carry to the officer of the guard directing that a detachment of soldiers be sent him at once.

During the talk, Wright mentioned Owhi in a manner to indicate that he also was present. This information startled Qualchien and in his surprise he asked excitedly, “Cah?” (where?). The Colonel replied, “Owhi mitlite yawa,” (Owhi is there), pointing to where he was detained. Plainly bewildered by the intelligence that his father was being held a captive, Qualchien repeated, like one partially dazed, “Owhi mitlite yawa!” “Owhi mitlite

Yawa!” Evidently it was beginning to dawn upon him that, whatever might have been his intentions in visiting the chief of the soldiers, he had voluntarily fastened upon himself the irons of captivity. The officers standing near eyed the Indian closely, fearing that he might attempt to use some of his weapons, and were ready to spring upon and disarm him at the first suspicious move.

The detachment of soldiers now arrived, under command of Captain James A. Hardie, officer of the guard. The Colonel requested of Qualchien his arms, and, though it was expected that he would offer resistance, he promptly complied with the re quest. He had, for that date in the history of guns, a very fine pistol, which was found to be fully loaded and capped. He carried also an ample supply of ammunition.

After surrendering his arms, the Colonel directed him to go with the guard, which he did very reluctantly, requiring to be pulled along by his arms.
On witnessing this turn of affairs, the squaw, who proved to be the wife of Qualchien, the daughter of Saulotkin, in a frenzy of chagrin dexterously twirled her decorated lance over her head, and uttering a shrill cry drove it into the ground, where she left it and rode away.

Immediately after the guard had started away with the prisoner, Wright penciled a note to Captain Hardie directing him to hang Qualchien at once. By the time the order was placed in Hardie’s hands he had reached the guard-tent, and, his orders brooking no delay, he made known to Qualchien, before the latter could enter the tent, that he was now to be put to death. The Indian was so completely overcome by this pronouncement of his sentence that he was unable to stand, and prostrated himself upon the ground, from which position he could not be induced or forced to rise. Bewailing his condition, he cursed Kamiaken, and thus led those who heard him to suspect that he considered Kamiaken in some way responsible for his present predicament. Being convinced that he could not be prevailed upon to rise of his own volition, the soldiers, after a severe struggle, for he was a man of great strength and activity notwithstanding the fact that he had an unhealed wound in the lower part of his body, bound his hands and six of them raised him from the ground and carried him in their arms to a leaning tree that stood but a short distance away.

Here the struggle was renewed. Though he was bound, he countered their efforts to place the noose about his neck so skillfully that they were finally compelled to press him down upon the ground. All the while he had been imploring them most piteously not to hang him. To General Lyon, in later years, is attributed the declaration that “No more mournful sounds were ever heard than those made by Qualchien in begging for his life.” Over and over he repeated, “Copet, six! Copet, six! Wake mameluse nica! Nica potlatch hiyu chickamen, hiyu cuitan, spose mica wake mameluse nica! Hiyu siwash sulex!” Which is, in English: “Stop, friends! Stop, friends! Don’t kill me !I will give you a lot of money and many horses, if you will not kill me! Many Indians will be angry!”

The rope was thrown over a large limb and a number of soldiers, seizing the loose end, soon finished the unpleasant duty by drawing the chief up, out of the arms of their comrades, until he swung in mid-air.

Two miners, engaged in the quartermaster’s department, who had been with a party attacked by Qualchien near the Columbia river, a few months before, assisted the soldiers in pulling the rope.

When Owhi came into camp, on the evening of the 23rd, he wore a coat which was recognized by an employee of the quartermaster’s department as having belonged to a miner who was murdered during the spring of that year.

From the moment when Qualchien called at the tent of the commander, to the time of his hanging, was no longer than fifteen minutes.

On the following day rumor gained circulation, from some source, that Qualchien had a large sum of money concealed about him. Probably the report was developed from his offer to give money for the sparing of his life. The possibility that it might be true appealed to the commanding officer with such force that, in order to prevent anything of value from falling into the hands of the Indians, an order was issued to have the body disinterred and searched. After careful examination, nothing of value was found upon it and it was again consigned to the grave.

The story of Qualchien’s visit to Colonel Wright must be left incomplete. His mission was not ascertained. The messenger set out to find him did not see him, and therefore he did not appear in response to the invitation the messenger bore. He doubtless knew of the council appointed for this place, and it might have been his intention to attend that, yet the council was already a matter of history. From his conduct some evidence was deducted which led to the suspicion that he acted as a spy for Kamiaken. Some believed that he had seen the detachment on its way to the Steptoe battlefield, and supposing the whole command had departed, came, out of curiosity, to inspect what he thought to be a deserted camp. Others attributed his appearance to the wily machination of the little hunchback, who plainly exhibited a degree of satisfaction at the chief’s discomfiture. Qualchien himself, either because of his disinclination or of his lack of opportunity to do so, did not make his errand known.

No report is made by Colonel Wright concerning the final disposition of Owhi. It is therefore fitting, at this time, in connection with the event just narrated, to anticipate the incidents of the succeeding few days in following his course.

Owhi, closely guarded, was taken with the command; it being intended to hold him at Walla Walla to await the orders of the department. On the 2nd of October, Colonel Wright recrossed Snake River and on the afternoon of the 3rd took up his march toward Walla Walla, and encamped that night on the Tukanon creek about two miles from Fort Taylor. The lieutenants had for several days been given turns as officers of the day, and on this day Lieutenant Michael R. Morgan had been assigned that duty. In that capacity he had charge of Owhi. On the march the two were mounted, while the guard of three or four soldiers was afoot. Morgan’s pistol hung at his left side. The Indian, riding at his right, could not see the weapon. They had fallen some short distance in the rear of the command when they arrived at the Tukanon. The footmen stepped a few paces above the ford to where a fallen tree spanned the creek, for convenient crossing. Owhi fell a little behind the officer, evidently to see if he was armed. Not being able to see the pistol, he determined that this was his opportunity to escape, and moving forward he suddenly struck the lieutenant several hard blows across the face with his whip and then dashed across the creek. As soon as Morgan could re cover from, his astonishment, he drew his pistol and spurring his horse into the creek, gave chase. Fearing lest the Indian should escape and thereby involve his own official standing, and angered also because of the lashing received in his face, he spurred his horse on as best he could in an endeavor to close up with the fleeing prisoner; but being a government” horse, the animal was proverbially slow. The lieutenant therefore under took to stop the Indian with his pistol and in the fusillade which he conducted succeeded in lodging three bullets in his body. Owhi was then headed into a sort of cul-de-sac, of natural formation, from which he could not escape without passing through the command. Finding himself thus hemmed the old warrior, sorely wounded, turned and faced his pursuer in dogged silence. Morgan had emptied his pistol in the chase and now addressed himself to the task of keeping Owhi penned up until assistance could arrive, or until he could again prepare himself for action. The pistol shots were heard by the troops on ahead, and a number of dragoons came rushing back. In their lead was Sergeant Edward Ball. He approached on the opposite side of the chief from where Morgan stood. Morgan ordered him to shoot the Indian, and at the report of his gun, Owhi, who had been sitting his horse in perfect silence, fell to the ground mortally wounded, the sergeant’s bullet having entered his head. He lingered until sunset, when his spirit took its way to the happy hunting ground.

In some contrast were the deaths of Owhi and his son Qualchien. The former died without a murmur, while the pleadings of the latter were so loud that Owhi, in disgust, disowned him, saying that he was the son of Kamiaken, probably meaning that he had been following the advice of Kamiaken.

Lieutenant Mullan’s Nez Perces proceeded to appropriate everything of any value that was found on the body of Owhi. His handsome saddle, profusely decorated with brass nails, was taken by Lieutenant Morgan, who afterward gave it to Surgeon Barnes, at Fort Vancouver. Barnes became surgeon-general of the army in the war of the rebellion, and attended President Lincoln at the time of his assassination.

Lieutenant Morgan reported the unfortunate affair to Colonel Wright and an antemortem examination of the chief’s body fully substantiated the details of the report.Citations:

  1. Colonel Wright in his reports gives this name as “Polothin” and it is signed to the treaty as “Polatkin.” Father Joset, who had an extended and intimate acquaintance with these Indians, and who assisted Father Congiato in securing the letter to General Clarke, had the name of the chief signed as in the text, Saulotkin.[]
  2. The “Chinook” language is a mixture of Indian and a sort of jargon evolved by the Hudson Bay Company, to be used as a common language for the purpose of carrying on its trade with the various Indian tribes.[]

Chiefs, Yakima,

Manring, B. F. Conquest of the Coeur d'Alene, Spokane and Palouse Indians. The Washington Historical Quarterly, Vol. 3 No. 2, 1912.

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